Friday, October 5, 2007

Fear. Gratitude.

This morning, Neal and I were walking the famous dog Isabel and got onto the subject of fear.

It's really quite astonishing how much in life comes from fear. Fear poses as a thousand other things, but if you look at the root of most of our rejection of situations, people, and conditions, you'll find fear. We are always trying to control things, always trying to protect everything, always trying to be safe. This type of action can appear incredibly rational and pragmatic, thus disguising itself as objectivity.

We are afraid of things being new. We are afraid of change. And above all, we do fear fear itself, so we do everything we can to avoid having fear. Paradoxically speaking, our fear of fear leaves us in exactly the place that we fear the most. It's as though we were on a treadmill from which there was no escape.

So we end up looking for liberation, liberation from this treadmill of fear. And liberation sounds like the elimination of fear -- getting rid of it, so that there is no fear left.

But this is not possible. Do we really think we can make a whole tree by lopping off the branches? If we trim the tree, yes, we still have a tree, a tree that suits us more, but it is not the tree in its natural state. And it is above all the natural state of the tree that we want to study. Biologists studying animals and plants always try to study them in their natural environment without interfering with them. In fact, it is understood that any study that is contaminated with interference does not reflect an accurate picture of the animal or plant's true nature.

The self observation that Gurdjieff calls us to practice is a study of the whole tree. We have to resist the temptation to trim branches so that the tree suits us. We just have to see the branches. Many of those branches are going to include fear; there they are.

In a greater state of self-awareness, we see that we are fearful, even as we feel the fearfulness with our emotions. We sense the fearfulness with our body. We know the fearfulness with our intelligence. Nonetheless, we give ourselves permission to go forward through the fearfulness and experience it. We do not let it stop us; we include it within the fact that we are here, we exist, and we must act.

This week, I was watching Ken Burns' new series "The War." Some people have called this stunning and very intimate, personal picture of the second world war "boring." I suppose I can see why they would feel that way; we want war to be exciting and dangerous and impersonal, the way it always looks on television and in the movies. It is much more threatening for it to be intimate and dangerous and personal, isn't it? Once you strip away the bombast and are left just hearing from the the people and looking at the corpses, the whole thing doesn't taste so good anymore.

The reason I am bringing this up is because men who go through war repeatedly come back and report an experience that was much more compelling and intense than anything they ever experienced afterwards. This is, more than likely, because they experienced a heightened state of self awareness that included their fear in a three centered manner forced upon them by the intensity of the circumstances. They discovered that they had to accept the conditions, and the ones that survived went forward, including their fear.

To go forward including one's fear, even in ordinary life, is a big thing. I have had to do this in number of times, and even when it was clear that the circumstances could not physically harm me or lead to my death, it was terrifying.

I usually have to confront this type of moment in smaller instances: for example, when I sit in a group and speak, because it is usually quite difficult for me to speak at first. I always find that there is a fear in me of exposing myself. When I was young, I understood this as shyness; of course, people would not tell you I was shy today--I seem to be loud and obnoxious to a lot of people, probably, and in moments of more presence it's fair said I am anything but shy-- but they don't know how much effort has gone into being as I am now.

The fact is that I am, like most of us, still afraid of the world. I cannot get rid of those parts of me: the parts that are afraid of being alone, afraid of the dark, afraid of confrontation (which I paradoxically initiate whenever it seems necessary) and afraid of just meeting an ordinary moment like looking at my bank account or opening up e-mail.

I think if we begin to examine ourselves very, very closely, very precisely, we discover that there is a truly incredible amount of fear at work within us. We are never going to get rid of an animal this large. Instead, we need to study it carefully and include it in our ecosystem, our biosphere.

There is a flip side to this fear. Hidden deep within us lie mountain streams filled with the clear, fresh water of joy and gratitude. If we are willing to work from within our fears, rather than attempt to dismiss them, eventually we will find those streams and drink that water.

There is nothing sweeter.

May your trees bear fruit, and not have their branches lopped off.

1 comment:

  1. There are seasons when it is important to prune the tree branches. As Blake has observed, "Without Man, Nature is barren." How many of your own trees have you allowed to become lopsided, cancerous even, out of laziness? But the difference between pruning and lopping seems to be that lopping is reactive, where pruning is for the good of the tree, the whole tree.

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